Artist Interviews 2022

Kevin Nealon  
By Johnny Otto

    I Exaggerate: MY BRUSHES WITH FAME

Kevin Nealon is probably best known from SNL, movies like Roxanne, where he played “Drunk #2”, and playing Doug Wilson on Weeds. What you probably didn’t know is that he’s really old now. He’s 68, but still looks great. I recently saw him on Conan Needs A Friend where he talked about his new book of caricatures called, “I Exaggerate: MY BRUSHES WITH FAME” Portraits & Stories. Mostly-true stories about celebrities accompanied by their caricatures, which Kevin drew over the years. I really loved the concept of the book and had the chance for a preview and loved it.

The Book is available on Amazon at everywhere else you never buy books from because who reads anymore? Doesn’t matter because it has pretty pictures to look at, which are great.

You claim to have started drawing when you were 8 years old and now you’re 68. Shouldn’t you be better by now? I jest, but in all seriousness, what took you so long to publish this book? Did you have self doubts about how it would be received? Did the moment just feel right?

I suppose if I closely analyzed my seemingly slow pace to be published I could narrow it down to a few reasons. First and foremost, laziness. Getting a book of artwork published seemed like a lot of work and focus.  I didn't even have enough finished pieces for a book - a brochure, yes, but not a book.   I had other passions in my life and art always took a back seat but it was always there for me and I went to it when I needed to destress.  It was a hobby that brought me peace.  Unlike some of my illustrator friends, who are always stressed to meet deadlines, I wanted my experience with art to be calm and relaxing. I never really had self doubts because I never considered a book so, of course, that wasn't part of the equation.  After posting many of my caricatures online I started to realize how much my followers enjoyed them.  Many suggested I put together a book or have a gallery showing. I thought, that's what a professional artist would do. I'm not a professional artist. It's just a hobby. I've seen professional, experienced artist's works and they deserve to be a museum!  The moment felt right when my paintings started to accumulate and opportunities presented themselves.

You mention being influenced by caricaturists Al Hirschfeld, Mort Drucker of MAD magazine, and of all people, Claude Monet. I had to look up Monet’s work because I didn’t know he did caricatures. Turns out he was a pretty decent artist. Any other influences? Any living artists that you love?

Haha, yes, Claude Monet, of all people.  One of the biggest influences on me was a very talented and unique Parisian caricature artist.  I never knew his name but growing up, two of his pastel works hung on the wall of my bedroom.  They were caricatures of my parents, side by side and each framed.  It was unlike any style I had seen until then.  Every night as I lay in bed I would study his technique, his choices of color. I would marvel at how clever this artist was, how he exaggerated all of their features yet they were still recognizable.  Thinking back, maybe I looked at those paintings every night because it was my parents and seeing them made me feel safe to fall asleep.

I started to follow several artists / illustrators on Instagram because their artwork just blew me away.  A few years ago, as I was beginning to wake up the artist in me, I discovered a great artist that was offering lessons via skype in England.  His name was Paul Moyse (@moysepaul) and his lessons were very helpful.  It wasn't that I was not an artist yet but I wanted to paint like him.  I loved his work. Another big influence was an illustrator / painter, Jason Seiler (@seilerpaints), who lives outside Chicago.  We became friends over the recent years and are always communicating about art or stand up comedy.  There are so many great artists that I follow online, each with their own unique style.

Over the years you got to meet and work with a long list of very talented people. Without naming names, could you tells us who your favorite person to work with was and why? Any stories too saucy for the book?

It would be hard to pin down one person, especially a cast member.  Also, without naming that person's name it would be hard to tell you who that person was. (Ha! very funny!) I always enjoyed working with Jim Downey who was a Harvard graduate and the head writer at SNL.  I admired his intelligent and hilarious sense of humor.   Dana Carvey and I worked a lot together and shared an office at 30 Rock for some time.  He was incredibly entertaining even at 3am when we were trying to finish a sketch.   It was Dana who recommended me to Lorne Michaels to round out the cast.  Thanks again, Dana.

The interesting thing about seeing a caricature of someone is that you start to realize that the person, whomever it is, actually looks like a caricature in real life. Dana Carvey, for instance, really looks like a cartoon. Do you find it easier or harder to draw someone who has no expressions? Or do you prefer the animated types?

I agree with you however I don't think it would take a good caricature of that person to make that comparison.  Dana Carvey may look like a cartoon to you but that may be because he is always doing some sort of schitck.   I find it much easier to draw someone who has interesting character traits or expressions.  The animated types are generally easier to draw because they offer so many sides to them.

Choice Gallery in Brentwood is doing your book launch. How is the experience of launching a book different from the promotion of movies? Do you look forward to these types of events or dread them like I do?

Launching a book is a lot more personal to me than launching a movie.  It's only my book.  In a film, you are surrounded by other actors.  Usually, none of them know what they are doing. It's something I poured my heart into.

Any advice for someone who wants to be a caricature artist? Pointers? Things you wish you knew when you started out?

Study the other artists works, especially the hacks you like.

Kevin hikes with his celebrity friends each week, with new episodes every Thursday. Check out the video below:

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